"There is a bit of personal history behind "Tracks". I wrote it about fourteen years ago, when I was still an undergraduate student. Of course, the cut then was very naive, quite immature. Last year, I decided to dust the manuscript off and refine it a little. "Tracks" is based on some personal interpretations of the pre - Dark Side music of the Floyd. The recent revision adds a slightly more philosophical dimension, touching upon the role of the listener in the experience of music. Vik
Scene I, Act I
Late evening, an orange-pink dusk. The mid-eighties. Steve Browning, a rock musician from the late sixties - early seventies, is sitting on the ground, carving something out of wood with a chisel & hammer. Music ("More Blues") fades in with lights. A knock on the door, then pause, repeats until the abrupt end and "dragging" sound before "Quicksilver". Steve looks up, startled, then suspicious, even apprehensive.
(Tired) FEMALE VOICE: Hello. (Pause) Hello, is anyone home?
Sound of door creaking open. An exhausted-looking woman in her mid-thirties enters, slowly, expectantly, and looks with fascination and awe at the uneasy, now peevish, musician.
STEVE: Who...? What the hell! How on earth did you find this place?
WOMAN (breaking into a smile): Steve Browning! I've been looking for you for years. Pretty much since you quit the rock-&-roll world and disappeared mysteriously in - what was it - the fall of 1973?
STEVE (surprised, then pretending): Steve? I ain't no Steve, lady! (False, short laugh) Can't you see, I'm just a hermit looking for some peace of mind. (Then intrigued, the woman continuing to smile) How are you so sure I'm Steve whats-his-futs, whoever that may be? Now get lost, lady, you're wasting your time and my mind!
The woman is taken aback, now a bit scared.
WOMAN (carefully): I.. I didn't mean to disturb you, man, I'm sorry. (Then impulsively, with rising excitement) I know you're Steve Browning! Your voice - it's that same groovy voice that sang "Green is the Colour" back in '68. And, pray, what's that self-styled acoustic guitar doing there in the corner - the kind only Browning played in his time? (Steve let's his head fall between his arms, which are wrapped around his knees. She doesn't give up.) You know, an old friend of yours I happen to be acquainted with told me where to find you. So...!
STEVE (more to himself, but looking up slightly): And I think I know who that might be. (Louder) Alright, you win. But not completely. I was Steve Browning. Now, I'm a man with no name. I prefer to live my life without a label of identification. (Still a bit irritated) But what is it you want from me, woman, after all these years? I've left it all behind in your "civilized" world. And I don't intend talking about it the way you might want me to - "my happiest moment on stage", "my best tune" and all that crap. Hey, you're some kind of journalist....
WOMAN: No, probably just your most ardent fan. (Steve shakes his head, again buries his head between his knees. Seeing him realize it's no good, she smiles and extends her arm for a handshake) I'm Cymbaline Wright.
Steve looks up, surprised. Doesn't "see" the waiting handshake. Cymbaline withdraws her arm slowly.
CYMBALINE: Yup, as in "Cymbaline" from your album "More". I rechristened myself after hearing that one. From Samantha.
STEVE (in disbelief): You've got to be kidding! You changed your name after an obscure song?
CYMBALINE (blushing, mildly protesting): Just from Sam to Cym! That's how much it meant to me. I still love your music. I just had to meet you in person before my past faded into insignificance!
STEVE: Uh-oh, an intellectual groupie. (Sarcastically) Alright! (Pause) So, you still listen to my music, huh, thirteen years after I quit? What do you like about it, anyway? In its time, it was considered a whole lotta weird stuff by most "normal" people - abstract and all that. (Mockingly) What did you get from the trip, let's hear!
CYMBALINE (accepting the challenge): Well, your tracks with vocals - I mean the lyrics - were quite simple to comprehend, but thought-provoking.
STEVE (raising his eyebrows): Oh!
CYMBALINE (undeterred): It's your instrumental tracks that fascinated me more. I would identify moods with them, that's what they conveyed to me. My interpretations, you know! It could be a dry afternoon mood. Or a rain-swept feeling of grey-green. Or a medieval churchyard ambience by a wooded river. And the music played in my head when I found myself physically in such settings. It was - still is - the soundtrack of my life!
STEVE: Your interpretations. (Smiling) This is amusing. Could you elaborate?
"Careful with that Axe, Eugene" fades in.
CYMBALINE: Take "Careful with that Axe, Eugene", for example. The incessant two-note bass line that the track originates from - someone chopping wood, an aura of melancholia. The crescendo suggests an increasing recklessness, as "Eugene" is slowly overcome by an inner frustration. A close one, seeing the danger, warns him. But he keeps at it, deafened by the fused violence of his act and thoughts - till the inevitable happens. Oh, the horror in the bloodcurdling scream that follows. Making way for your floating guitar riff, which gives a voice to the pain. And how it all subsides, into eternal lament ...
STEVE: Wow! But where do you come in to all of this? How do you identify with this soundscape?
CYMBALINE: Oh that - well, I was going from bad to worse into experimenting with life. My parents warned me about the "afterlash". And it came like a whip one day - I had a breakdown and was laid up in hospital for days. That's when it struck me, the analogy. Except that the suffering passed and I survived. I evolved.
Silence. Then Steve looks amusedly at Cymbaline for a moment, and bursts out laughing. She is a little surprised.
STEVE: Sorry, love. I didn't compose the piece with any of that in mind! Heck, I didn't even compose it. It was my guitar, though (Starts to laugh again; Cymbaline's face falls. Pause) It's much simpler. Robert, our bassist was plucking on my guitar one day - he couldn't play guitar for nuts - just a single note followed by its octave, again and again, till he broke two strings. After we fixed the strings, he went back to the same two notes, but this time on the lowest two strings - the bass strings. The whole thing evolved into an idea that he became obsessed with, and everybody picked up on it, adding more layers, giving the piece its fullness. Maybe I should have whispered "careful with that ax, Robert", but it doesn't sound musical enough, does it? (Cymbaline still confused) This is "ax", without an "e" - meaning guitar, you know that (laughs)!
CYMBALINE (let down): Oh.
STEVE: And in any case, the whole trip was never about drugs. People extrapolated the musical experimentation to experimentation with everything.
CYMBALINE (getting excited again): What about "Funky Dung"? ("Funky Dung" plays) It takes me back to those moonlit nights on the moor, when I would go out on walks in the gentle fall breeze. I had a favorite rock that I would sit on, not too far from the river. And from the fields on the other side of the river would come this whiff of cowdung. I'm serious! It didn't take much deprogramming to like the natural smell. Funky Dung!
STEVE: I don't know who you are, lady, but I sure know where you've been. On a groovy trip! (Thoughtfully) I created that one when I was back in "paradise" - a four-year phase of my life. (Pause) Yeah, you've got the moonglow right. But the inspiration came from a strange periodic sound we heard once, outside our barn, in the dead of night - something a bit more musical than crickets. We were freaked out, it was so inexplicable. It was literally funky, we made it musically funky!
CYMBALINE: Who's "we"? Did you -
STEVE (cutting her short): Those were days of creativity, freedom and love. What more could a human being ask for (rising, exhilarated)?
CYMBALINE (looking at his face interestedly, but a bit perplexed): But who did you share -
STEVE (again interrupting): What do you feel about "Mudmen"? From one of my last albums - 1972? You must have heard it.
CYMBALINE (forgetting questions, smiling softly): Brilliant! ("Mudmen" plays) Another lonesome trip. Sitting in the verandah of my childhood home around tea-time, on a windy afternoon, the warm sunshine filling my being, my hair flying for freedom - I can still feel it! Your long guitar notes simply screamed in celebration. I could almost hear words in my head. (Singing along) "Don't you feel it, it's there for you & me - freedom!".
STEVE: It was an experience of freedom. Only I wasn't alone. It was a shared freedom. That's what made it "paradise". That's why we called ourselves the "free four". One-two-free-four! (Grinning) My countdown at the beginning of a track those days. We would walk for miles, hand-in-hand - sometimes on horseback - singing songs, arguing, or just silent. Then one day, on the other side of "paradise", we found the Mudmen. It was raining down hard, a typical afternoon thunderstorm in an equatorial land. We heard from a distance their chants, in rhythm with the sloshing of their feet in the muddy water. When we saw them, they were covered in mud. Their dance costume was the wet earth! They were one with the earth, as they celebrated the downpour. We felt one with the earth just watching them. They asked us to join them. No fear. We were not strangers, just because we looked different. We became one with them, the earth and the water. Instantly - it didn't take any effort. And we call this - the western world - civilized? Why, we can't even connect with each other, let alone the earth!
CYMBALINE: Then why did you leave?
STEVE: Because we felt our presence to pollute their purity. We're no mudmen, Cymbaline. There's too much synthetic content in our being. It's fed to us right from the day we are born. Beyond a certain point - probably adolescence - the change becomes irreversible. That's why we need to let our children connect with their inner selves, with each other, with nature. We don't. (Shaking his head) We don't.
CYMBALINE: Most of us grow up stunted - spiritually, emotionally. I guess, there'd be no anti-establishment, if the "establishment" were like that of those Mud-people. At least in philosophy.
STEVE: At least in simplicity. They were such simple people. No warped thinking, no disharmony, no war! That experience affected me so much, that its essence reflected in my compositions. People said, my music became "simplistic", even repetitive.
CYMBALINE: I thought it improved greatly around that period. Lot of acoustic ballads. This was '71, right?
STEVE (nodding his head): It didn't take very long after that to stop making music for others (sad laugh). Then there's people like you... (seeing her crestfallen) I'm sorry the music never quite matched your identification trip. But then (thoughtfully, then looking at her), looks like it grew larger in significance than originally intended by its "creators", doesn't it? We must just be agents, instruments that unveil it - the effect, the interpretation. We don't create it. It's is already out there - in some of us, anyway....
CYMBALINE (listening as if in a trance, then softly - in a tired voice) Please don't apologize. Now I'm even more fascinated by you, your past, and the spirit that emerged from it to possess you for keeps.
STEVE (impressed): You know, you should've gone into songwriting, with a crazy imagination like that. Why, even your talk is metaphorical!
CYMBALINE (blushing): Me? Ha! These are just phrases - I mean, phases - I slip into now and then. But (hinting) this one looks like it ain't leavin'! Anyway, tell me more about yourself, your glory days - the way you perceived it all.
STEVE: More? (Laughs) I.... There aren't enough words to describe that period. There was.... (actually seems to stumble for words; "The Gold, it's in the..." starts playing, with appropriate projections) There were the four of us.... the Free Four, remember? This was even before I made it big. We'd go out into the country and groove with Mother Nature. We weren't as simple as the Mudmen, though - we had our problems. But those were still the best days. Then suddenly, they came to an end - for a while anyway. By now, I was a superstar, surrounded by people like insects crawling all over my soul - and my body - just because there was money and an association with fame to be made.
CYMBALINE: You said, for a while. Did the glory days return?
STEVE: Apparently not for my music. But they did, for me. The visit to Papua - New Guinea, the four days and nights with the Mudmen - that was "paradise regained". Man, am I glad we went. I nearly didn't, you know.
CYMBALINE: Why not? Why would you turn down a trip - with such close friends - that brought you so much joy in the past?
STEVE: Too messed up. I had become a "professional". I was forever expected to do my thing. The image I had naturally acquired uptil then was now a cemented stereotype. And you can guess what happens then - it has happened to many-a-musician of my time - (singing) them self-obsessed blues, oh no!
CYMBALINE: Ok, so you regained paradise in Papua - New Guinea. But where are.... (Abrupt end to music. Steve suddenly gets up, as if anticipating the next question, and starts walking in a daze. Pause) ....your friends today? (Perplexed, imploring) Wait!
Steve leaves stage. Cymbaline gets up to go after him but, seeing it's no good, returns. "Saucerful of Secrets" starts to play. Defeated, very tired, she looks around the room. She finds a hand-crafted, wood-and-rope cot ("khatiya") and crashes. Lights dim to a nightly blue. Pause for about thirty seconds.
Scene I, Act II
From blue, lights turn a dim red. "Cymbaline" starts to play and lights become brighter until a flaming red. Cymbaline stirs, rises and listens in a trance, unbelievingly. She looks out of a large window toward backstage and sees Steve silhouetted against an enormous orange full moon, singing with his arms thrown wide into the air. The entire track plays out.
Scene I, Act III
Enter, a man, looking worried, concerned.
MAN: Is that you, Cym? Whew! (Wiping his brow) Man, was I worried! I thought you'd lost your way through this God-forsaken country. (Looking around, then in realization) Is this where Steve Browning lives now? (Cym turns around, nods slowly) Where is he? (Looking more carefully at her) Is something wrong?
Without replying, Cym turns back to her view of Steve, who cannot be seen any more. She has the same lost, sad expression on her face. A long pause.
CYM: There's something I just can't understand, Jay. He's a bit vague. There's this-this impenetrable wall around him, built up over the years since he said goodbye to his world of discontent. He shared a beautiful experience with his closest friends, out in Papua - New Guinea sometime around 1971. Next thing you know, he disappears, ostensibly in the woods of central Pennsylvania! I can't help wondering what happened between these two events. Was it the criticism he faced, for the change of musical style after '71? Did his friends desert him? (Imagining) They'd had such groovy times together! No, that can't be, not after such a long, wonderful association. He-
JAY (cutting in abruptly): You're obsessed with this guy! What'd he say about these "friends" of his?
CYM: He kept mentioning them. That's the one thing he was vague about. He never said who they were, where they are now. He just left. (Sighs) There's a wrong note somewhere in this track.
JAY: A wrong note - I like that. That's what it is (dry, sad laugh). Did he refer to "paradise", and how he "regained" it?
CYM (surprised): Yeah, but how did you know? (Dismissing, and returning to her thoughts) It was perfect, like a fairy tale. But it didn't end like one.
JAY (firmly, bitterly): That's 'cause that's all it was, Cym - a fairy tale.
CYM (shocked): What?!
JAY: It don't exist - none of it.
CYM (distressed, loudly): None of what?
JAY (sardonically): All this stuff about "friends in paradise", the "trips"....
CYM (very disturbed, flustered): I...what.... What are you talking about (grasping Jay's arm, imploringly)?
Pause. Silence. "Sysyphus" (Part III, melancholy piece) starts.
JAY (emphatically): Cymbaline, this man doesn't have a past. So, he creates one, and actually believes in it. That's why he sounds so convincing. (Softer, sadly) Steve Browning - a man who's life was as drab as anyone else's before he made it big - and after. Devoid of love, care, peace, freedom - the very things he keeps harping about -
CYM (softly): No (shaking her head in disbelief)!
JAY: That's how I wrote "Champion of Freedom". (Picks up Steve's guitar and sings)
The champion of freedom, himself a slave?
No, man, it just can't be true!
The lover of peace, at war with himself?
It's a cruel world, ya know....
CYM (dazed, but in realization, more to herself): Steve - a past with no ups, just the downs? Then suffering from delusions bordering on schizophrenia? (Breaking down, face in her hands) I don't believe this, oh no! (Sobs).
JAY (taking her by the arm): C'mon, Cym, let's go.
CYM (trying to shake her arm free): And leave him like this? (Reproachfully) How can you? You were quite close to him.... (Again distracted) Maybe he could stay with one of us. Till he regained faith in himself - and others..... Maybe he would start making music again.... ("Stay" starts)
JAY (getting exasperated): You're wasting your time - and mine. They tried everything - psychotherapy, rehab, even a stay with his mother! Nothing worked. It's no good.... (Softening) Let's go.
CYM (softly): Atleast he was honest about the sources of his inspiration. Mostly so plain, but developed into such magnificent themes..... (Jay starts to lead her away) Oh Steve.....
Exit Cym and Jay, she very reluctantly, sadly, occasionally looking over her shoulder. After a few seconds (toward the end of "Stay"), Steve reappears, from the opposite entrance. For a brief moment, he is surprised to find the room empty, and walks over to the other end of the stage lost in thought. He turns around and looks at the room, as if remembering Cymbaline's presence. Then he goes back to his seat on the floor and resumes working on the wood as in the beginning. The curtain falls with the end of "Stay".
Scene II, Act I
Curtain rises to the beginning of "Spanish Piece". Cymbaline and Jay are sitting in a brightly "sunlit" cafe. Cym is quite obviously still very disturbed over the recent encounter with Steve Browning, someone she had admired for a long time. She holds her head in her hands, elbows on the table.
JAY: Aw c'mon, Cym, snap out of it. There's nothing you and I can do for Steve Browning. It's just too bad. Bad karma, I guess. (Pause, as he thinks of a change of topic) Hey, what do you feel about this place? Cute, isn't it? (Inhales deeply, as if smelling) Ah, the fragrance of the Mediterranean! I could stay here forever -(looks at her) - Cym? (Shakes her gently)
CYM (hardly aware of her surroundings): Huh?... Uh... I guess so.....
JAY: Look, if you don't quit this mood, I'm leaving (disgusted). Your blues are not going to help Steve in any way!
CYM (looking up angrily): Get lost, then! Just because you can be so callous about the whole thing doesn't mean I get over it by sitting in the Spanish sun.
JAY: Hey! Signs of life! Ok-ok, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, Cym, it's just that.... (voice trails off as he sees someone approaching; enter, a woman in a bright summer dress).
CYM (softening, as she turns her head): Just leave me alone, if you can't stand to see me like this.
JAY (getting up abruptly): I think I'm going to do just that. You need some time by yourself, to think things over. I'll be in my room if you need me (pats her on the arm). See ya.
The woman in the summer dress appears surprised when she sees Jay. She quickens her pace to catch up with him as he leaves.
WOMAN (crying out): Is that you, Jay? Hang on! Jay! Hey, I want to speak to you for a sec. (Jay exits stage, apparently without hearing her; she turns around and retraces her steps back to Cym's table, somewhat disappointed) What's up with him (more to herself)? (Then to Cym, smiling) Mind if I join you?
CYM (shaking her head): Sit down. (Continues to stare ahead vacantly, depressed; the woman notices)
WOMAN (brightly, extending her hand): I'm Sasha Welch. An old friend of Jay's.
CYM (reciprocating): Hi. Cymbaline Wright.
SASHA: How do you know Jay Maynard?
CYM: Met him a couple of years ago, at a party.
SASHA (interestedly): Are you a musician? (Cym shakes her head). No, wait. Let me guess. A rock journalist? (Cym remembers the way Steve had initially thought that of her; is lost for a moment) Cymbaline?
CYM (breaking out of her thoughts) Hmm? (Then realizing the question, shakes her head)
SASHA (gently placing her hand on Cym's arm): Is something the matter?
CYM (a little choked): It's funny you should say journalist. Someone I've admired for years and only recently had the good fortune of meeting thought the same (smiles sadly; pause, then thoughtfully) I guess I am one, in a way.
SASHA: Why did Jay take off like that?
CYM (dryly): I think he has had enough of me. (Pause) I'm sorry. Don't mean to have the same effect on you...
SASHA (sweetly): That's alright.
CYM (trying to get interested): What about you - how do you know Jay?
SASHA: That's a long story. Actually, I know him through a great friend of mine - another musician, you must've heard of him - they recorded "South African Scuffle" together -
CYM (slowly sitting up): You're a friend of Steve Browning's (voice reaching a high pitch)?
SASHA (smiling): You might not be a rock reporter, but you sure know your rock-&-roll! Yeah! And I haven't seen him in ages. That's what I wanted to speak to Jay about - if there was anything new on Steve's whereabouts.
CYM: You're not going to believe this, but I was with him only a few nights ago! We just came from there, Jay and I. Jay had told me about this wooded area in central Pennsylvania. I simply had to go looking and stumbled upon Steve's hut -
SASHA (pleasantly surprised): Hut? So he did finally take the plunge! He always wanted to live like that, close to the earth.
CYM: He lives there all by himself, the life of a hermit.
SASHA (looking into the distance, as if remembering the past, and softly): The life of the Mudmen.
CYM (with rising curiosity): How did you get to know Steve Browning?
SASHA (sighing): We were inseparable, the four of us. We'd call ourselves the "Free Four" ("Burning Bridges" / "Free Four" starts). This goes back to our college days! We'd go everyplace together, (elatedly) do everything together. To the extent that people would be sick of us - and we'd trip on that! We had found paradise on Earth, Cym. Our regular excursions -
CYM (grasping Sasha's arm): Wait! You're one of the "Free Four"? (Sasha nods her head) Absolutely positive?
SASHA (puzzled but amused): Why would I be making that up? Steve's obviously told you about us. Or was it Jay?
CYM (almost hysterically): I...How... Is this some sweet dream? (Becoming serious): Or was that a nightmare? Jay told me a lot more....
SASHA: What did Jay tell you? (Pauses, as if understanding) I guess you ought to know that side of the story, too.
CYM (surprised): What do you mean?
SASHA: Steve and Jay weren't just two great rock musicians coming together for sessions. They knew each other even before they became famous. Their respective bands used to play gigs in different parts of London on the same night. Sometimes, they would compete for the same gig. These two guys grew up together, musically speaking - as did their rivalry. Men (waving her hand dismissively). Or should we say (tongue-in-cheek), boys? But as you know, their styles evolved in different directions, reflecting the difference in their temperaments.
CYM: Introspective psychedelic musings versus overtly externalized angst.
SASHA: And around Summer '68, the psychedelic art rock movement took off, with Steve's band at its moving frontier. This was a major setback for Jay, and his kind of harder rock - although it saw its peak later, in the early- to mid-'70s. I remember Jay being consumed by jealousy during the psychedelic period. He hit the bottle hard, behaved atrociously. He even tried to derail Steve's career - and his life.
CYM (surprised): How did he do that?
SASHA: By indirectly getting people - agents, record company executives, women - to put too much pressure on Steve to produce. He knew Steve's fragility only too well. He knew Steve would crack one day. (Pause. Then grimly) And by creating a misunderstanding between us - the four of us - splitting us up.
CYM (realizing): This happened around 1973.
SASHA (nodding): Steve's second big blow.
CYM: And I just gave him yet another, taking off like that after thrusting myself upon him. (Sorrowfully) He still doesn't know the truth....
SASHA (shaking her head sadly): Looks like Jay never let go of that grudge from nearly twenty years ago.
CYM (with tears in her eyes): Oh Jay. If only we could all rise above such petty misgivings. Can I hug you, Sasha? (Sasha nods and they embrace. Then excitedly): Enough! Come with me (rising abruptly and taking hold of her hand)!
SASHA: Where to?
CYM (joyously): Across the "pond". To Steve Browning, the "Champion of Freedom". Come on (as she pulls her along off the stage)!
"San Tropez" starts and the curtain falls.
Scene III, Act I
Steve's hut. Cym and Sasha enter excitedly. But Steve's not there. The hut is empty - no cot, no utensils, no books, no wood-work. Only a custom-built acoustic guitar stands all by itself in one corner, where Cym first saw it.
"Absolutely Curtains" / "Echoes (Part-III, vocals)" fades in. Cymbaline walks over to the guitar, picks it up gently and stares at it for a few moments. Then she turns around and looks at Sasha, tears welling up in her eyes. She walks over to her slowly, puts her head on her shoulder and cries silently. Centerstage, the two women hold each other, and the guitar, as the song plays out.